Benefits of Virtual Design and Construction to Civil Construction Projects

The ability to visualize the built environment is critical to the design and construction of civil construction projects. While 3D simulation is widely used in the design phase of infrastructure projects, it is still gaining momentum in the construction phase.

Advancements in 3D and 4D simulation technology, however, now make it possible for project stakeholders to better visualize the construction process of complex buildings and infrastructure projects. This advanced visual communication provides a valuable asset to the building design process and is one that civil projects should adopt.

More construction project sites now use virtual design and construction simulation. Virtual simulation provides a 3D and 4D computer-generated representation and offers a very realistic view of buildings, bridges, infrastructure, and other graphical models.

These models can deliver many benefits to civil projects by making it possible to show stakeholders the planned construction sequence of a project and visualize its physical evolution.

Before the building process starts, construction plans can be virtually conceived and fine-tuned to cut out inefficiencies. For example, a visual simulation can allow for changes to a structure’s geometry.

This offers clients the ability to reduce costs by making the changes virtually before actual construction has begun. Virtual construction also increases safety because it can identify any problem issues early in the design process. In addition, communication and decision-making across the project life cycle is enhanced.

Most construction project sites now use BIM software, which allows for 3D and 4D visualization. Contractors either procure 3D and 4D models externally or they employ their own BIM teams internally.

Admiralty Station

Admiralty Station

In China, it’s common practice to fully simulate and validate the construction process before getting started. An example is Admiralty Station, part of the South Island Line (East) Project, an extension of the Hong Kong MTR metro system. It will become the first four-line interchange in Hong Kong and is expected to open by the end of 2016.

Syntegrate, a Hong Kong-based firm specializing in the application of computer-based technology in the building industry, is collaborating with project owner MTR Corporation and general contractor Kier, Laing O’Rourke and Kaden (KLKJV), which uses BIM technology on its global construction projects.

The team chose Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform as their BIM platform to visualize construction sequencing, including excavation, concrete pours, and formwork erection. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform provided the team with a visualization of the underpinning work required to support the existing rail lines and platforms, which remained in operation throughout construction. 3D laser scanning offers the built conditions of the tunneling works.

Repeated simulations of the onsite work is helping the construction team in step-by-step planning. KLKJV has been able to execute each phase with minimal rework to reduce schedule delays and materials.

Chenta Bridge Project

Photo Credit: Yang Hui/Global Times

(Construction workers complete the last plat for the Chenta Bridge. Photo credit: Yang Hui/Global Times)

The Shanghai Foundation Engineering Group (SFEG) constructed the Chenta Bridge, an extremely challenging project with high complexity and a need for integration among stakeholders and schedules. It led the firm to adopt an advanced BIM platform.

The entire construction process of the Chenta Bridge was implemented in advance through simulations. The team used CATIA to model the entire bridge, based on CATIA design template and parametric modeling.

SFEG created a framework-driven concept, using actual measured data as inputs to update the model. This way, the digital models would be exactly as same as the real product, based on data obtained from actual onsite measurements.

Comparing the actual model with the original design model allowed them to detect potential risks visually, early in the process. They included all of the critical construction equipment in the model. For example, the scaffolding on the main tower and the cradle platforms. Throughout this process, the equipment, the scene layout, and the design structure were closely linked and interconnected, providing a comprehensive view of this complex project.

The benefits of using a BIM platform for civil infrastructure projects are clear: enhanced simulation offers a clear understanding of a design’s implications before it reaches the work site. This predictability enables civil construction firms to reduce risk, improve quality, and increase competitiveness.